XVIII Fulbright Summer School in the Humanities

National Classics and World Literature in the Age of Globalization

The XVIII Fulbright Summer School in the Humanities “Great Books and Critical Readings” took place at Moscow State University on June 23-27, 2015. The School was created as an interdisciplinary event and this year it traditionally gathered not only scholars of literature but also historians, philosophers, political scientists, both as lecturers and participants. The interest towards phenomena of “world classics” and “global literature” as well as the role they play in contemporary education united all these experts.

The School honorary lecturer Michael Holquist (Yale and Columbia Universities) shared his priceless experience on understanding the status of philology in the history of scholarly thought. Professor Holquist focused on two leading approaches to studying world literature in the United States today: Franco Moretti’s (Stanford University) “literary laboratory”, which applies quantitative methods and technologies, and more text-centered school of David Damrosch (Harvard University).

The second day highlighted the most important practical aspects of the school discussions: teaching Russian literature as part of world literature, teaching world literature in Russia and the reception of Russian classics overseas. The strong impression of the second day was Darrell Wasyk’s film The Girl in the White Coat (2011, first screening in Russia) “inspired”, as it says in the subtitles, by Nikolai Gogol’s “The Overcoat”. As Diana Nemec-Ignasheva (Carlton College/MSU), Polina Rybina (MSU) and Irina Kaspe (Higher School of Economics) showed, this movie is in a dialogue not so much with Gogol’s tale as with Alexey Batalov’s screen version as well as Federico Fellini’s and Lars von Trier’s films. The analysis of such complex audiovisual allusions can contribute to a conversation on literary classics with young people today. The school sessions also focused on the issues of translation discussed by Alexandra Borisenko (MSU), Alexander Livergant (Foreign Literature Journal, editor-in-chief), and Birgit Menzel (Gutenberg University, Mainz).

Transcultural and transdisciplinary literacy implies practices of close reading (also called slow and critical reading), and digital mode of literature both facilitates these practices and interferes with them. Eugene Mironov (RANEPA), Anna Kostikova and Alexey Kozyrev (MSU) as well as Stephen Duncomb (New York University) shared their experience of teaching analytical reading. All these speakers agreed that a teacher should be an active reader who can connect a classical text with modernity and involve the students into this process because a skill to read a big, complex book thoughtfully is comparable to an ability to finish any big, complex task.

David Damrosch (Harvard University) participated in the school final round table. Using three verses created in Old India, medieval England and modern Argentina as an example, Professor Damrosch brilliantly demonstrated how comparing texts can open new depths in understanding other and one’s own cultures. In discussion that followed, the school participants asked David Damrosch, Michael Holquist and Igor Shaitanov (Russian Humanities University) numerous questions on the potential of contemporary comparative studies, the importance of classics in forming contemporary transcultural identity and on many other issues. This discussion became an emphatic final accord in the five-day talk on world literature and undoubtedly inspired the school participants to experiment in their teaching and research activities. Since a number of Fulbright events invited participants of the summer school for teachers of Russian language and literature (over 200 people), one can hope that this creative impulse will spread widely.

The school last day took place not in MSU Shuvalov Building but in Pushkin State Museum. Fulbright Summer School regular organizer, Professor Tatiana Venedktova (MSU) reminded of Dostoevsky’s famous speech about Pushkin presented in June, 1880 at the Assembly of the Nobility. Almost exact concurrence of the time (end of June) and place (Moscow historical center) enabled the participants of contemporary conversation on world literature to feel its historical depth and responsibility: it is Pushkin’s “universality and omni-humanity” that Dostoevsky acknowledged as the most precious quality of Russian culture and its greatest hope.

More information about the Summer School can be found here

The article was prepared by
Evgenia Butenina
Far Eastern Federal University,

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